This week, the Korean government will decide whether the indoor mask mandate will be lifted, and when exactly.
As the latest wave of pandemic in Korea is calming down and stabilizing, the officials are more prone to lift the indoor mask mandate. If they decide to do so, it will be shortly after the Lunar New Year holiday, which will last from January 21 until January 24, 2023.
Korea is the only country among OECD member states that requires face masks in all indoor facilities.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) announced already last year that the mandate might be lifted as soon as January 2023, but nothing is set in stone just yet. Since many Koreans will be traveling across the country during the Lunar New Year holiday, there is a risk that the cases will rise again.
Another risk pose travelers coming from China to Korea. Although all people coming from China have to be tested at the Incheon airport, Koreans and foreigners with residency in Korea are getting tested at a public health center in their neighborhood within one day of arrival. Local government offices are having a hard time checking whether the second group is actually getting tested, as some people submitted false personal information on the Q-Code system, which all travelers from China have to fill in before boarding the planes.
In order to lift the mandate, it was decided that two out of four following conditions have to be met:
1. cases must not be increasing for at least two weeks,
2. the number of patients in critical or serious condition must be on a decline and the weekly fatality rate should be 0.1 percent or below,
3. hospitals and clinics must have enough beds to care for patients who develop serious illnesses,
4. a good proportion of the population at higher risk of infection must get booster vaccine shots.
If the government decides to lift the mandate, it will be replaced with a recommendation for most indoor areas. However, in medical facilities and public transportation masks will still be mandatory.
Update: Indoor mask mandate will be officially lifted on January 30, 2023.
Witten by “Tereza Park”
1. Korea JoongAng Daily, Indoor mask mandate may be lifted after New Year holiday, (https://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/2023/01/12/national/socialAffairs/korea-mask-indoor-mask/20230112163145629.html)
2. The Korea Times, Korea to determine when to lift indoor mask mandate this week, (https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2023/01/119_343806.html)